January 15, 2009
Shortly after takeoff, US Airways Flight 1549 loses power in both engines. In what aviators call a “bird strike,” a flock of geese flying straight into the plane’s propellers has disabled them instantly.
In the cockpit, Captain Sully Sullenberger quickly realizes it would be impossible to reach any airport, meaning a crash landing is his only option. Drawing on 42 years of aviation experience, he steers the plane — a giant jetliner called and Airbus — into the Hudson River, gliding to a safe landing that spares the lives of 155 passengers and crew members.
Afterward, Sully remembered the moment when it felt like all was lost, how having “zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking — the silence.”
More recently, Sully said about that day: “For 42 years, I’d been making small, regular deposits in a bank account of experience, education, and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient that I could make a very large withdrawal.”
“I realized,” he said, “that everything in my life up until then had prepared me for that moment.”
And he meant everything: his family, schooling, experience as a glider pilot and instructor, military service, civil service…everything.
A big waste of time?
I spent years as a communications consultant to large corporations, supporting my kids and my employees.
That whole time, the idea for Blossie’s Books was alive and kicking in every cell of my body. But no matter how I felt, I had to keep being the “corporate tiger.” Too many people were depending on me. No way I could stop consulting to write books.
Beautiful someone, until I listened to that interview with Sully, honestly, I’d often slip into regret (maybe even a little self-pity 😊) for the years I spent serving the corporate world.
Maybe it was all a big waste of time?
We can all do this — spend time regretting our past, something I can relate to not only on a work level, but on a personal level too, having lived through the enormous pain of infidelity and divorce.
But what Sully said kind of makes that impossible…
“I realized that everything in my life up until then had prepared me for that moment.”
Nothing is wasted
Most of us will never experience a moment like Flight 1549, but there’s a bigger message here: the idea that for any given moment, our past, our experiences (good and bad), our histories and skills, have prepared us.
Nothing is ever wasted.
So now I can look at my past through a new lens:
My corporate experience (as unhappy as it was) gave me insights into the pressures employees are under so I can write books about good ways to handle those pressures.
Years as a consultant enabled me to understand the pressures of entrepreneurship and the challenges of being a good manager. They made me a better communicator — or at least one who tries harder!
Infidelity and living through a painful divorce gave me a level of empathy for people going through the agony of rejection. (It also made me fiercely loyal in my relationships because I know what betrayal feels like.)
Looking through this new lens, we can all make a list like this. Some questions to help:
- “What were some of the tough experiences from my past?”
- “How have these experiences made me a stronger person? How have they made me smarter?”
- “Who do I have more empathy for because of these experiences?”
In the end, beautiful someone, I’ve realized, my heart to yours: Not every great experience feels great while it’s happening to us. But they’re all important to becoming who we’re meant to be.